Question: What is your opinion of the trend among certain alleged defenders of free enterprise to repudiate the concept of government entirely and to advocate instead what amounts to some form of anarchy?
Branden: Well let me say at the outset that I of course am an advocate of limited constitutional government. I’m in complete agreement with Ayn Rand’s essay on “The Nature of Government” which appears both in her collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness and was then reprinted again in her later book Capitalism The Unknown Ideal. Therefore I’m not going to here review the arguments for the necessity of a constitutional form of government since I assume you’re all familiar with it and in fact agree with me on that subject. I think it’s a very unfortunate trend which is seducing an awful lot of somewhat careless thinkers– this trend among alleged libertarians to advocate what you correctly call anarchism. I think the motives differ from person to person. I think the motives of those who cooked up this idea are not necessarily the same as some of those who are seduced by their arguments. I think they do a very serious disservice to the cause of free enterprise because they put forth a position which is so palpably ridiculous that they just make their own contribution to putting the advocacy of capitalism in the category of a lunatic fringe.
And that’s very unfortunate because some of the people associated with the anarcho-capitalist movement are not stupid. They can be very intelligent. They can be very articulate–some of them, not many. And they do a real disservice to the cause of rational capitalism. I think this is a movement that will have a brief vogue and will die in a few years. As people have a chance to mature and think the matter over I think they are going to realize that the arguments they have accepted are very spurious and they may look back with some feeling of embarrassment about this period of their intellectual development. I don’t think the whole issue is of great social or sociological significance. I think it’s an unfortunate phase. I think it will pass and I really have to say I think it’s all pretty stupid.
Question: Well then, Dr. Branden, how would you answer the argument of these anarchists that, since government necessarily entails a monopoly on the use of force, such a monopoly can be maintained only by force and, hence, government always involves some violation of individual rights?
Branden: This, of course, is their favorite argument and their stock argument. In briefest essentials, I would answer as follows. Let’s imagine, to make it very simple, that we–this group in this room tonight– form a society and agree on the principles to be operative in the society in a political sense. We agree upon a constitution and a government is created for the purpose of carrying out the principles laid down in this constitution. Now, let us say that somebody new is born into the society or enters it from some other country, and he says: ‘Look. I wasn’t consulted, I wasn’t asked my opinion about this system of government. I want to set up a competing system of government. How can you justify forbidding me from doing so and threatening me with jail if I don’t go along with the present political order of things?’
And my answer is the following. And remember we are talking here about a free system, about a government which is limited in its function to the protection of individual rights. Suppose that I am the spokesman for this hypothetical government. Then I would say to this person as follows: In this society, nobody is forbidding you anything so long as you do not violate the rights of anybody else in this society. That means, more specifically, if you want to form private arbitration agencies to settle disputes among people who will become your clients, you may do so. That happens even in our present society. You can form a private club or a private organization and lay down any kind of rules you want for your members. You will not be stopped until and unless you attempt to use physical force or fraud or some derivative against some fellow member of this society. That you have no right to do.
If you ever attempt to use force, let us say, in retaliation against a criminal, which you may have to do if the police are not available, you will be obliged to justify later your use of force and to demonstrate that it was, in fact, necessary. If you can justify it, you’re in no trouble, any more than any other citizen of a free country is in trouble. So that so long as you don’t infringe somebody else’s rights, you can form any kind of organization you want. You can have your own arbitration committee, you can have your own system of penalties and fines and so long as the people who go along with your organization voluntarily agree to pay them, you have no problem. Your problem begins when you attempt to use force to get your way.
Therefore, in conclusion, I argue that in the system we are advocating, the individual is not having his rights violated because he is not allowed to set up a competing government.
Question: Dr. Branden, a few members of this anarcho–capitalist group are advocating an alliance with the New Left. Can you offer any explanation of this rather bewildering position?
Branden: Well, when you talk about the members of the so-called anarcho groups who advocate an alliance with the New Left, there I would say they are examples of what I called “counterfeit individualism” in an article I wrote a number of years ago for The Objectivist Newsletter. I described this type in my book The Psychology of Self-Esteem when I spoke about the so-called ‘independent’ social metaphysician, the people who are against for the sake of being against, the people who are rebels for the sake of being rebels, but who are not for anything. They are primarily against and their chief intention is to destroy. The so-called anarchists – capitalists who advocate alliance with the New Left justify it on the grounds that they have in common with the New Left an animosity toward the state. Let’s tear down the state, they say, that common goal is a bond between us more important than any intellectual difference.
What sort of intellectual or ideological differences are they willing to ignore? The fact that the New Left sees nothing wrong with the use of force to gain its ends. It sees violence as a perfectly valid instrument of political motion or political development. The fact that they are willing to cooperate, that is to say the anarchists, are willing to cooperate with the New Left, only tells us how little regard or respect they have for property rights or individual liberty or philosophical consistency. I think here you deal with the very lowest depths of the anarchists–capitalists—meaning those who are willing to talk about an alliance with the New Left. Maybe some of their followers are confused and have not thought the issue out very carefully. But here you deal–and I put it bluntly–with the real intellectual scum who are no more friends of capitalism or individualism or individual rights than a Hitler or a Stalin is. They are against this society or any society because they feel themselves to be outcasts and with bloody good reason because I doubt very much if they would find a place in any civilized society.
Academic Associates’ Seminar, January, 1970